Greece prepares for its first 'normal' Easter tourism period after two year hiatus due to the pandemic lockdowns and border closures, confirmed Alexandros Vasilikos, head of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels.
As Greeks depart from the cities in droves for Easter, the country's "heavy industry" - the tourism sector - is preparing to test its readiness in what amounts to a "dress rehearsal" for the busy summer months. Vasilikos said that the hotels that attract Greek customers will open as there are clear signs that people are thirsting to get away from home after two years of lockdown.
He noted, however, that for some seasonal hotels the high cost of energy was a deterrent to opening at Easter, while many year-round hotels had opted to close during the winter for this reason. According to Vasilikos, the figures for February showed that energy costs had risen by 86.5 pct and the cost of consumables by 38.8 pct, meaning that opening was unsustainable without very high occupancy rates.
He also noted staff shortages because many employees had moved to other sectors of the economy, especially the sharing economy: "You won't, of course, find official figures with work stamps but it is become ever clearer that there is a trend not for an exit from the sector but an exit from the legal and regulated sector and entry into the informal economy."
A serious factor, he added, was the unfair competition from short-term leases, stressing the need to regulate what he called a "chaotic landscape".
While there were no signs of a decline in bookings, Vasilikos said, the environment remained precarious as these were no longer linked to guarantee contracts or advance payments.
The President of the Federation of Hellenic Associations of Tourist and Travel Agencies (FedHATTA), Lysandros Tsilidis, that Greeks were cautiously venturing beyond Greece's border to spend Easter after two years confinement. Top destinations are Turkey, due to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Egypt, Israel and Rome, Paris and Austria.
Smaller numbers of Greeks have also opted for more distant destinations, such as Cuba, America and Canada, he said, while noting that bookings were still 50 pct below the level of 2019.
According to Tsilidis, the vast majority of those leaving the cities will head to holiday homes or visit their parental home, while the top destinations for domestic tourism will be the Peloponnese, Pilio, Ioannina, Zagorochoria, northern Greece and the islands. The hotels that decided to open would be probably full he predicted, while pointing out that many large units are closed. The sector welcomed the fact that there was a return to "pre-pandemic" opening, even if performance lagged relative to 2019, and that people were also able to visit from abroad.
The reports from the islands, meanwhile, show that the economic crisis favours destinations near the Greek capital, such as the island of Aegina where ferry fares have increased by just one euro, and which according to the local hoteliers association president Stavros Kalamakis is doing "spectacularly well" this year.
In this category are the other Saronic Gulf islands and Andros, which is banking on its profile as a safe and attractive destination with good quality services.
The island of Naxos is also among the most popular, with accommodation at almost 100 pct capacity and competitive prices, while the signs are also encouraging for Sifnos and Crete.
The Peloponnese expects a lot of last-minute visitors arriving by car, in spite of the increase in the price of fuel, while Athens is expected to empty over Easter and only the hotels in the centre have high occupancy rates.